Building the perfect battery is a hard problem. Batteries either too inefficient or too expensive or too unstable to power the renewable gadgets of the future. But a team of Harvard scientists just built a new kind of battery with a molecule found in food, and it could solve these problems.

The molecules in question are quinones, organic compounds that happen to be identical to molecules found in rhubarb. The Harvard team built the batteries by harnessing the electrochemistry of the quinones rather than using an expensive metal like platinum as an electrocatalyst. Whereas conventional batteries cost about $700 per kilowatt-hour to charge, this metal-free technology costs just $27 per kilowatt-hour. The U.S. Department of Energy says that batteries need to cost just $100 per kilowatt-hour to make storing energy from wind farms economical. And because the quinones are dissolved in water, the batteries are both hyper-efficient and super safe. They could be a game-changer for renewable energy.

"The intermittent renewables storage problem is the biggest barrier to getting most of our power from the sun and the wind," lead researcher Michael J. Aziz told the press. "A safe and economical flow battery could play a huge role in our transition off fossil fuels to renewable electricity. I'm excited that we have a good shot at it."


Now if only you could eat them, too. Something about the sound of quinone pie just doesn't seem nearly as appetizing as rhubarb, though. [CBC]

Images by Eliza Grinnell, Harvard SEAS Communications